HMS Westcott rammed and sank U-581 off Pico island in the Azores on the 2 February 1942 with Cdr.
Ian Hamilton Bockett-Pugh, RN in command.The
photographs of U-581 sinking after being rammed and scuttled were
supplied by Alan Chitty, the son of Ordinary Signalman Albert Edward
(Ted) Chitty (1922-2009) but there is some doubt about the author of this description of the sinking of the U-Boat which was published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association.
We left 'Gib' for the Azores to pick up a troop ship, the Llangibby Castle
which was laden with one thousand British personnel, she had been
struck by a torpedo which badly damaged her rudder and steering gear
and had pulled into the Azores but under the three day rule she had to
leave the harbour. We were accompanied by the Exmoor and Croome. Exmoor took up station outside the Northern entrance and Croome
the South while we took up position outside the harbor for it was known
that U-boats were in the area waiting for the troop ship to come out.
Just as the forenoon watch was taking over the alarm bells went and
there in front of us on the surface was a U-boat which appeared to be
steering the same course as ourselves. We increased to full speed with
the intentions of ramming her but only struck her a glancing bow. We
soon overtook her and as we came alongside a depth charge pattern set
to shallow was dropped and as we turned 'X' and 'Y' guns were able to
get a few rounds off at her too. Skipper had intended to ram her but
thought better of it, however the collision damaged our stokers mess
At this point the German U-boat
crew were jumping over the side, we managed to haul forty-one officers
and men aboard including Captain Pfeifer.
The ramming of U-581 by HMS Westcott and the rescue of
The pall of black smoke as U-581 breaks in half and sinks, survivors
struggling in the water and coming alongside Westcott in a dingy Courtesy of Alan Chitty
The surviving crew members were put in the damaged stokers
mess with an armed rating to stand guard over the hatch to the mess. Captain Pfeifer delivered a formal protest in writing when he arrived on board.
The Protest Captain Pfeifer
(1) When being followed up, boat got gradually took on water without
influence of the enemy. The consequence was to rise to the surface as
soon as possible. The boat was in distress at sea.
(2) According to our navigation (controlled by taking bearings on the
coast) boat was four miles off the coast before the persecution,
afterwards boat was steering East course for some time, later on when
coming to the conclusion to emerge about ten minutes 70 degrees. After
emerging boat was steaming on 70 degrees. The stream was setting NNE.
(3) The boat would have been ready with lay down 24 hours in a neutral port.
(4) In spite of the possibility to shoot, boat did not launch
torpedoes. I made no use of the gun because it was the neutral zone.
(5) After having seen that the boat should be rammed by the destroyer
or should be covered with depth charges I commanded All men off the
6) The depth charges did not disturb the boat hardly because it was on
the surface. I myself gave the order to sink the boat. It was flooded
by the Chief Engineer who left the sinking boat with me.
(7) Of course of above we beg for delivery to a neutral country.
While the survivors, more than forty in number, were being picked up the
Commanding Officer of Westcott, Lt. Comdr. Bocket-Pugh had taken the
opportunity of fixing the position. Having ascertained that it was
outside territorial waters he rejected the protest. With regard to
the first item, unseaworthy U-boats, he considered should stay in
harbour and, if at sea should show "Not under control lights". The
second was very vague and proved nothing and his comment on the third
was "It would probably have been ready within one minute if the
Llangibby Castle had been observed to sail". As for the rest of the
protest it seemed to him that after the first attempt at ramming and
the pattern of depth charges, that was justifiable enough, panic on
board. The enemy realised that the outline of the U-boat had not been
lost against the background of Pico Island as had been hoped, the
torpedo tubes were not ready and the gun was out of action. Either
through panic or because the U-boat was too damaged to be fought, they
decided, before Westcott ran in for her second attack to abandon
The three destroyers continued with their patrol until
Llangibby Castle was observed to be heading into the Fayal Channel.
Westcott steamed into the channel and signalled the liner to steer for
the Southern end, which had been so satisfactorily cleared. It was
considered that since there had been a U-boat at the Southern end of the
Fayal Channel there would also be one at the Northern end.
Therefore, Westcott went ahead of the liner, telling her the good
news as she went by, and exhorting her to make for the open sea and to
steam 'Like Hell'.
Llangibby Castle was headstrong and was
refusing to obey her Master and steer North, then went off to the West.
Later she changed her mind and went East-South-East down the channel
between Pico Island and San Jorge Island. She apparently knew better
than her master, for there lurking off Ribeirinha Point was another
U-boat and it could do nothing but bring up the rear of the convoy as
they passed between the two islands at 8 knots. Out in the open sea
the liner which had been steering by her engines felt the full force of a
South-easterly wind and the Master decided to take a tow from the tug Thames which had been standing by. While the tow was being passed Croome sighted a U-boat some five miles away as it was coming out of
the channel. Exmoor and Croome carried out depth charge attacks which
may have discouraged her from pursueing the attack further. On each of
the following days U-boats were sighted, but Llangibby Castle was not
attacked and arrived with all her passengers safely in Gibraltar